Friday, October 02, 2009

I decided to write a post here on this subject rather than a direct comment. I have to react to two aspects of this post.

First, on the writing skills of students: I think five years ago, I would have agreed with the post completely. However, for the past few semesters I have noticed an improvement in the quality of my students. Granted, I have been teaching 9 years, not 46. And this is a new semester, so I'm not able to judge my current students' work yet. (I have not read the most recent batch of essays, since they were only due this week.) Also, the improvement in quality that I observe is not only (or maybe even primarily) in the area of writing. Finally, it is quite possible that the improvement is (at least partially) in me...I know I have gotten a lot better at engaging students. In fact, in recent days I have been doing a lot of thinking about how great my classes are. Sure, there have been semesters that were uneven, and individual classes that were particularly memorable (in a good way), but I haven't had a truly disappointing class in years.

But I guess I could agree that there are a small minority of students even now who have terrible writing skills. I'd say excessive television viewing, doing very little reading (not just what is assigned for class - I detect a lifelong deficit in pleasure reading, something I find very sad), and an abundance of communications technology (email, texting, social networking, cell phones) all contribute to this problem. I point this out as someone who appreciates communications technology a lot. One of my challenges is figuring out how to co-opt it into meaningful learning, because it isn't going away.

Next, on the subject of the SUNY System implementing something to rectify the problem: 15 years ago was the heyday of MAP. I've no doubt the then-Chancellor responded that System was working on something. There were hints of expanding the program to reading and /or writing. That idea died, even sooner than MAP. Until recently, there hasn't been a shred of academic leadership in the System. Will this change now that there is a new Chancellor? I hope so.

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